In times of political chaos and uncertainty, the mental health of an ordinary person remains at risk
The political history of Pakistan has been marred alternately by dictatorship and political unruliness. Dictatorship does not allow the masses to entertain any hope of participating in or controlling the matters. However, the masses legitimately expect the elected governments to undertake at least two onuses with certainty and success; one, the elected representatives should be deciding on their behalf and only for their benefit, and two, major decisions should not be made in drawing rooms behind closed doors. The elected governments are expected to make their decisions in public and for the public. That is not anything extra but a prerequisite to establish a democratic culture. Only where the masses are informed about the decision-making and the decision-makers, can they make informed choices about their representatives.
Moreover, they are reassured that a vote carries some value; their opinion matters; and they exercise some control over their own lives. Democracy, this way, goes beyond a mere political system of electing the rulers and running a government; it affects people’s mental health. The masses in a democratic system are cognizant and functioning; they do not feel disregarded and helpless. They can see that the political tug of war is not only meant to attain power but also to resolve their problems, for which every political party may have different strategies. If we keep these traits of democracy in mind, it can be said without any doubt that the elected governments have messed up with mass psychology more than the dictatorial regimes. Obviously, the main difference lies in the people’s expectations from their elected representatives.
Messing up with mass psychology is not anything new. In the recent past, nearly eighty thousand people were killed in our mosques, markets and streets. We were told one day that we were in state of war, but no one told us, against whom. A war needs an identified enemy and identifiable reason, but we know neither the enemy nor the reason. A jingoist told us one day that the killers were our own armed brethren who were a little unhappy with us (us mean who?). No other society suffered such a massive crisis this way. Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans, Afghans, Palestinians and Yemenis know who is killing them and why. The wretched of the earth in Pakistan are never informed about the identity of their murderers. Neither the establishment nor their elected cronies opened their mouths. Some ideologues and partisan journalists did create chaos by pouring contradictory theories into peoples’ minds. We all know that trauma gets harder to overcome if it is wrapped with confusion and contradictions.
Then came the rule by political parties. The central political leadership had been declared corrupt. They had cases against them; they were sentenced and jailed. The masses were told later that these were bogus cases and lodged on the orders of so and so. Then came a political leader declared Truthful and Honest by none other than the Supreme Court. As soon as his reign was over, officials who were on the “same page” with him told the masses that this declaration by the court was actually a contrived verdict. Audio leaks and scandals of financial embezzlement were on top of that. The people supporting this political leader were left with two options: either withdrawing their support to him or staying with him and ignoring the new revelations against a man-made god of honesty and truthfulness. Both the options were hard; to take a U-turn or to get dazed in the face of a volley of new irrefutable information. If they left him, they would lose their trust in their judgment and the system; if they stubbornly kept on supporting, the choice created a gulf and a conflict within themselves, as the doubt had already polluted the purity of their opinion.
Then comes the evening; the time to watch talk shows. Every talk show has partisan journalists and members of various political parties. The senior tajzia nigar (analysts) and political workers are there more to accuse others than to defend their parties or leaders. One has to be a loyalist to believe them. Otherwise, everything they say qualifies for the bin. Nothing is left to believe in with certainty. Every political claim is believable only if you are a sympathiser of the claimant. No one can make up his mind or form an opinion about the political players’ credibility and functioning. Everyone counts the flaws of their opponents rather than highlighting their own achievements. The political parties purposely pick the jabbers for these talk shows.
Now we have two groups of people; the believers and the baffled. The believers are blind supporters of a political leader. Their support does not depend on fact or reality. The baffled are sceptic and apathetic. They are the people who are increasingly doubtful about the future. Unfortunately, their number is rising. They live in a “culture of chaos” where everything you believe, whether about an incident, personality, strategy or theory, has an equally serious refutation. The objective truth has ceased to exist. The truth is now subjective; everyone has his own one, steadily becoming incommunicable to others. Every political opinion is losing its potential to convince others. The political debates and dialogues to draw consensus are impossible to hold.
In these highly chaotic conditions, an ordinary person’s day-to-day life is pummeled by massive perils with no attention paid to them. The believers have opted to stay blinded; the baffled are perplexed. The believers are bound to be deceived and disillusioned, if not sooner, then a little later. They will be joining the baffled and increasing their number. The baffled are already in a state of helplessness, which seems to be gaining permanence. Whatever the outcome of the current political contention, the feelings, perceptions and mental health of an ordinary person will be one of the major casualties. However, dealing with that is not a priority for the power centre or the political elite.
The writer is a clinical psychologist. He can be contacted at email@example.com